Lessons Learned After My Divorce

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28, NIV

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Today, I wanted to post about some important lessons I learned as an adultery and divorce survivor. These are just my personal thoughts–not counseling or really even pastoral reflections for the most part. They are born from my own painful learning experiences. Hopefully, those reading will be blessed by them:

1. I am not responsible for the emotional state of another human being.

After my divorce, I decided I would never take responsibility for another person’s emotional state, again. My ex-wife thought it was my responsibility to make her happy all the time, and she abuse Ephesians 5 to justify her stance. I do not buy this lie any more. I am responsible for my own responses to my emotions.  It is not my job to make my wife happy. That is beyond my powers just as it is beyond her powers to make me happy. We do not even control our own emotional states–let alone another’s.

2. It is not my job to ensure fidelity in my marriage partner. They are 100% responsible for choosing fidelity and honoring their commitment to me.

One of my mistakes in my first marriage was accepting the job of fidelity boundary-setter in the relationship. My first wife looked to me to tell her what was acceptable or not in opposite gender relationships. This resulted in rules that could be followed by the letter of the law yet resulted in adultery (clearly).

I never ought to have taken this job. We have to answer to God for our own actions and need to be able to make these boundary choices on our own. Talking to your spouse about what you think is cheating is healthy. However, each spouse is ultimately responsible to honor their own marriage commitments. One needs to be self-policing, in other words, hoping to honor and love the other spouse by not causing them the sort of pain that comes from being unfaithful to them.

3. If you keep score in your marriage, everyone loses.

I think this is an especially dangerous temptation for Americans to realize. We are the nation of “fairness.” Born with almost the innate ability to say “Mine” and “That’s not fair!” If we do not combat this natural tendency, we are sure to wreck havoc on our most intimate relationships.

This is one lesson I wished I had learned earlier in my first marriage. Much of our dysfunction came out of the score-keeping mentality surrounding household work and money issues among other things. To be clear, these were marital problems and not causes for my ex’s infidelity. Those are completely separate issues.

However, I decided before my second marriage to be clear on this lesson. We are going to strive to not keep score (which is hard). I hope I have become the sort of spouse who is available for support irregardless of the question of “Whose turn is it?”

4. Divorce is a better option than living under the threat of continued adultery or actual continued adultery.

As I have shared before in this blog, I believe adultery is acceptable Biblical grounds for divorce (e.g. Mt 19:9). Living under continued adultery or threat of adultery is unhealthy for the faithful spouse. I speak from personal experience on this one. And I will even call living under those conditions abusive. Such is incredibly demeaning and hurtful. No other person can demonstrate such utter contempt for you than your spouse by either committing adultery and/or threatening it after the fact. God is clear that this is unacceptable and made an exception to His high view of the marriage covenant for a situation such as this. You do not have to put with such wickedness. So, don’t.

5. Marriage is an additional grace and not a means to complete oneself; learn to like yourself as God made you first.

I can remember rather vividly the point after my divorce when I came to realization that I actually liked myself. Part of this journey was discovering and valuing the person that God made me to be, which included embracing my emotional, introverted, geeky, and passionate personality traits. It was a journey out of deep shame for me. I am thankful for God taking my hand and leading me out of such darkness.

To the point about marriage not being intended to complete oneself, I would point out the danger around believing the opposite. The temptation is to “cannibalize” the other spouse in the attempt to fill a hole that only God can fill. For me, I leaned too heavily on my former wife for emotional stability and validation. I had to come to a place of healing where I was okay if the woman in my life was unhappy or could/would not validate me. That’s not her job (see lesson #1 above). God is the one who provides my identity and support now. This is why a heart-level understanding of God’s love and our identity as sons/daughters is so vital.

In another post, I hope to share some more lessons I have learned. My plan is to share lessons I learned about navigating “friendships” and family during the difficult time of adultery discovery and/or divorce. It is tricky as anyone who has experienced adultery and/or divorce can likely attest.

9 thoughts on “Lessons Learned After My Divorce”

  1. As I am still facing so many doubts while going through my divorce, I must tell you again how your posts speak to me. Divorce is a better option than living under the threat of future adultery? That one statement got through to me finally. I have had people trying to say this to me so many different ways. It is finally sinking in.

    1. Thanks, for your kind words, tiredsigh! Doubts are to be expected in a time of grief. I remember being desperate for my marriage to continue even after I knew of the extramarital sex my ex had or continued having. What I write comes after much healing and perspective. That said, glad you found encouragement and clarity from what I wrote!

  2. For me it’s hard to accept that I am not responsible for my ex husband happiness. I tried to make him happy by doing more and more things that he wanted but it was like being drawn into the hole. He still told me that he didn’t feel appreciated and our marriage was boring and this is why he cheated. I don’t think this was the real reason but I still wonder if I was at least partially responsible for his happiness.

    1. Mommy of two, don’t buy that lie. He is responsible for his own emotional state. There are plenty of morally acceptable activities to do if one is unhappy–e.g. volunteer, go for a run, etc. Committing adultery is not one of those. That is on him. I know it is tempting to buy the lie. But don’t. He could have chose otherwise.

    2. Mommy- We can’t expect to have our spouses make us happy every day. We’ve only been married a few months but DM and I have have several occasions where we were blatantly furious with the other. That’s the norm in marriages. You get into fights, you’re unhappy with something. If you buy the happiness line then you have to buy into that your spouse can divorce you b/c they were unhappy b/c you didn’t take out the trash…yea, it’s pretty pathetic when phrased that way. It’s a lie. We all have problems and conflicts in our relationships. As the CL blog mentions,

      Problem: the housework isn’t getting done
      Adult solution: have a conversation, set up a chore chart, decide what gets done weekly vs what can get done monthly, who does what, etc
      Cheater solution: go find someone else to sleep with, bonus points if that 3rd party is also married themselves

  3. I would be interested to know how you interpret
    Deuteronomy 24:5
    5 If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.

    1. Mommy of two,

      ESV renders that verse as follows: “‘When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken.'” ESV is a generally faithful and somewhat wooden translation of the original language. At least one of my Biblical studies professors at Yale viewed it as a scholarly acceptable translation. The point is that the idea is this arrangement is to be beneficial for the couple in general. As a side comment, I would hope a newly wedded couple could be happy for their first year.

      Also, I think God made this provision to acknowledge the challenging nature of the first year in marriage when two lives are being made one. Notice that this is also just for a year. It is a definite period even if one clings to the other translations about making the wife happy (if so, then I would ask them where the year sabbaticals are as well).

      Another point to make on these matters is that seeing marriage as a vehicle to happiness or demanding it from the other spouse is not the primary intention of God. When God institutes marriage in Genesis 2, He does not say marriage’s primary purpose it to make the wife or husband happy. My sense is that God uses this relationship to image His relationship with us (Eph 5) and to help sanctify us as no other relationship can do.

      Hope that helps!

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